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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Office, Season 4, Episode 4: “Money”

I heard last summer that the new season of The Office would feature more episodes than any previous season and also several hour-long episodes. The Office is a rare thing in television: it is actually worth the amount of hype and praise it gets and it has never had a bad episode. Every episode delivers the same mix of popular culture references, physical comedy, and behavioral humor at the level of quality we have come to expect.

The reasons I love The Office are the same reasons that make me worry about it. Every episode hangs on three story elements that were introduced in the pilot: Jim and Pam’s relationship, Jim and Dwight’s relationship, and Michael Scott blowing some minor problem way out of proportion. The characters are all so rich, so well-defined that it seems unlikely that they can surprise us. In an episode, we can expect Angela to be an unreasonable bitch, Creed to pull something out of his bottomless pit of depravity, Jim to bug out his eyes at something uncomprehendingly ignorant that Michael or Dwight says. Just when it was occurring to me that the concept was wearing a little thin, I heard that executive producer Greg Daniels and the show’s other writers would have to produce more content this year than any other and I became afraid of seeing a bad episode of The Office. It terrified me that what could be one of the funniest, most inspired, freshest series in the history of television would become less than fresh.

I’ve watched all four hours of the new season of The Office. If I had held my breath waiting for a lame or tired joke I’d be dead by now. It would seem like the best idea for the show would be to add a lot of new elements and change the style of the show to keep it from repeating itself. There is a little of that in the season, but the changes are minor (Jan and Ryan both get expanded and transformed as characters) and they do not alter the humor or tone of the show. Instead of trying to change the show to keep it fresh, Daniels and his crew have decided to ignore the problem of freshness and just write really fucking funny episodes.

“Money” is the fourth hour-long episode of the season and, like the other three before it, it is a prime example of great television. The humor all comes from pain; Michael is especially desperate this week and Dwight has sunk farther into his forlornness since Angela left him, but the pain and the comedy is never separated. It’s genuinely touching and also genuinely funny. Michael trying to run away in a boxcar is one of the stupidest/funniest ideas the writers of the show have ever come up with. I was disappointed when it ended, knowing I’d have to wait another week for the next one and that it would only be a half hour long. I felt ashamed and asked God forgiveness for questioning the reliability The Office when it had never given me reason to doubt.

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